Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mescaline, Grapefruit and Kzinti

"The kit bag," I said.

He kept one eye on me while rooting around in the bag with his other eyestalk. Then it emerged from the bag gripping a pill bottle. He deftly opened it with his lips, popped the bottle in the air, swallowed two pills while it was airborne, then caught the bottle, closing it with the cap he'd held in his other mouth. Fucking around, showing off.

He cackled. "Maybe you should swallow only one of these. That acid's still working on you. Your human brains are so fragile."

He flipped the bottle in the air again and batted it in my direction. I caught it and considered the thing before putting it down. Maybe later. Instead I sat down on the bed and rolled a cigarette with my toes, began smoking it the same way.

Nessus looked at himself the way he does when he's incredulous. "Freak," he said. I almost popped a mescaline cap right then and there just to spite him. Instead, through a deep drag on the tabac stick, I smiled and said, "And you're my attorney. What's that say about you?"

Nessus had had enough of the give and take.

"Never mind that," he said, and opened his laptop, a 3-D news broadcast expanding into the empty space of our suite. Some clown had found a Tnuctip stasis box, but blundered into some Kzinti, who had in their own deft way turned the situation into a full-blown interstellar incident. The human newscaster breathlessly speculated on the possibilty of a fifth Man-Kzin War.

"Turn that shit off," I said testily. "If I wanted to hear some hyperventilating lunatic babbling about improbable future events inspired by the Book of Revelations, I'd hyperwave Ausfaller. Or my ex-wife."

Nessus nodded, leaned over and typed a url into his machine. "You're right. I find most humans so distastefully excitable."

"Present company excepted, of course."

I stubbed my tabac stick into an ashtray, exhaled the last of its smoke, and took a long look at Nessus, unsure whether Nessus was pulling one of my lengthy legs or not.

I opened the pilljar and downed one of the mescaline caps, after all. "You're one inscrutable son of a bitch, Nessus."

I grabbed a grapefruit from the kit bag and started slicing it up. The last thing I needed with a shifty-eyed Puppeteer needling me was to be taken down by mescaline-induced nausea. I needed to be at full strength.

And besides, now that we'd settled in, we needed to get moving. The race would begin in less than fifteen hours and we needed to get down to the lowest levels of the tunneled-out dwarf planet, where thirty ships and thirty race teams were headquartered.

Some few journalists, we knew, were going to actually ride with one of the race teams, but Nessus and I had no such plans. We were going to camp out at the hotel bar and follow the race on the hotel's 200 inch monitor. Before that, though, it was probably a good idea to speak with some of the racers.

And like I said, we had about fifteen hours for that.

"Grab the recorder, two quarts of rum, and a half-ounce. I'll grab another grapefruit and a notebook. Too bad we don't have a photographer . . . ."

Nessus and I looked at each other in sudden realization and began to laugh like we hadn't laughed in days.

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